Celebrating the New Orleans Hornets GM Jeff Bower

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Published: October 21, 2008

Bower isn’t an active, sexy GM like Kevin Pritchard of the Blazers or Bryan Colangelo of the Raptors – men who are as skilled with the press as they are with building a team.  He gives short answers during interviews, and isn’t interested in engaging in active dialogue.  Several times I’ve been told by journalists who have interviewed him that he’s not a “good” interview because he’s extremely close with his thoughts, and his answers verge on being uninformative.  When he’s a guest during a television broadcast, his voice is a monotone, and he would not be out of place teaching a class in Ferris Bueller’s High School.

As a talent evaluator, things have been a mixed bag for Bower.  It was Allen Bristow, not Jeff Bower, who drafted David West 18th and Chris Paul 4th. Bower landed Peja Stojakovic, but probably overpaid for him.  Bower sold his  Draft Pick for cash this season, a fairly questionable strategy that hasn’t worked out well for other teams.  His trade of Bobby Jackson for Bonzi Wells and Mike James last year can’t really be considered a win for the Hornets – especially since Bobby has since been turned into Ron Artest by the Rockets and we remain on the hook for 2 years of questionable Mike James production.  To balance the good trade of PJ Brown and JR Smith for Tyson Chandler and the drafting of Julian Wright, Bower brought in busts Arvydas Macijauskas, Marcus Vinicius and Cedric Simmons.  Morris Peterson was a decent signing, but the extension Rasual Butler was given and is still playing out was clearly excessive for his production.

Despite that – I’d still rate Jeff Bower as one of the top 5 GMs in the league.  His easiest virtue to appreciate is his ability to stick to a team concept and build a team that works together.  I’ve said this over and over here on this blog, but Bower has put together a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.  He doesn’t succumb to numbers and slap together a team like Denver that has brilliant isolation scorers in Anthony, Iverson and JR Smith that can’t work together or play defense, or the Bulls, a team of hard-working players who lack Genius.  Bower has brought in players that each provide something that improves the effectiveness of the other players on the team, and more, he’s brought in players that fit the mold of what Byron Scott wants on the floor.  There are no clashes between coach and GM in New Orleans.

That’s important, but there is another part of what Jeff Bower has built that is equally vital to our team.  He’s built a team that will be able to compete for a long time, and has a salary structure that will allow it to keep its prime trio of assets.  There will be no need to sell of homegrown talent like has occured in Phoenix.  There will be no vast luxury tax bills like there will be in Boston – doubly important due to the much lesser revenues the Hornets can command.  Jeff has been very conscious about the luxury tax line in all his dealings.  Not just this year either, but for the forseeable future.

The Hornets core for the next half-dozen years is Tyson Chandler, David West and Chris Paul.  As Dave Berri of the Wages of Wins Journal likes to bring up in his analysis of the NBA, there is something called the Pareto Principle that has successfully been applied to many real world situations – including the NBA.  In a nutshell, the Pareto Principle states that 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes.  In the business world, it’s usually expressed “80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients”.  In the NBA, it means 80% of a team’s wins will come from 20% of the teams players.  On a 15-man team – that’s 3 players, meaning that if you have a strong trio in the NBA, you’re going to go far. (Bird-McHale-Parish, Magic-Kareen-Worthy, Jordan-Pippen-Rodman/Grant, Duncan-Ginobili-Parker, Garnett-Pierce-Rondo anyone?)

With the trio of Chandler, West, and Paul, the Hornets should be able to contend in the West every season.  The trouble is, Paul may be under contract until at least the summer of 2012, but Chandler and West are not.  From various comments I’ve seen, there are lots of people who worry about the impact of the contracts of Mike James and Rasual Butler.  They worry that the last years of Peja’s,  Peterson’s and Posey’s contracts will keep us from contending.  I’m here to tell you don’t worry.  These expiring contracts actually mesh perfectly with a design to keep the primary core – and our ability to contend – intact.  Jeff Bower’s got ya covered.

((Hey! If Pargo had stuck around, we could have rolled out the five “P”s – Peja, Posey, Peterson, Pargo, Paul.  What a lineup!  Eh?  Who cares?  Whatever.)) 

The first trouble spot for our core would be 2010, when Tyson Chandler has the chance to opt out of the final year of a contract that pays him $12,750,000.  His value is high right now – and will probably be just as high, if not higher, after next year, but I still expect him to sign an extension with the Hornets that will take him into his 30’s.  But what if he does opt out?  Will the Hornets be able to offer the 14-15mil a year contract that will probably be required to re-sign him?  Yes.  That year Mike James and Rasual Butler come off the cap – and probably Hilton Armstrong as well barring any break out this year.  Altogether, the Hornets will be on the hook for  $55 million to Peja, Paul, West, Peterson, Posey and Wright.  With a luxury tax that will probably be in the $73-77 million dollar range, the Hornets will be able to sign him, Hilton and probably another pair of minor free agents with little difficutly.

The next year is when David West has the chance to opt out of his contract.  West has signed a rare sort of contract – one that is front loaded and actually decreases in value every year.  The last year of that contract, before 2011, is only set to pay him $7.5 million.  This essentially guarantees that he will opt out of the contract because it pays so little for an All-star player, and because if he signs an extension – the starting extension salary will be limited to start only 15% higher than that 7.5 million – much less than he can command on the market. This is also the year that Julian Wright becomes a free agent – and he’s shown all the signs we’d want him to stay too.  So – is there any reason to worry that we won’t be able to sign those two?  No.  That is the year Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson’s contracts expire.  Combined, those four players will expire 32million from the Hornets payroll.  If the Hornets at that point have signed Tyson to a 15mil a year contract and Hilton to a 3mil a year contract, the Hornets would have Paul, Chandler, Hilton and Posey as a core making a combined $41 million.  That would give them roughly $35 million to re-sign West, Wright, and offer another couple nice contracts to free Agents.  In short, the Hornets set up to reload their team the summer of 2011 around the core – and it’s no coincidence that year coincides with the third year of Paul’s extension, after which he can decide to leave or not.

Flexibility when it’s needed most to keep your franchise player happy.  Nice.

So the next time you hear Jeff Bower droning on during a broadcast about how he’s “very excited” about our young players in a voice that makes you shudder to imagine what he sounds like when he’s bored, just remember the core he has built, and the masterful way he’s put the contracts together to keep them playing together for quite a while.  That should bring a smile to your face.

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